(Photo credit: Artes Max)
The F1 curtain-raiser in Melbourne, often a thrilling and absorbing race, delivered a repeat of last year's Ferrari triumph as Sebastian Vettel claimed top spot on the podium. The Tifosi were elated to see the blood red flag with the prancing horse fluttering above the podium where many expected Mercedes' flag to fly.
It was Vettel's third victory at Melbourne, and his second back-to-back win since 2017, but the glory could have been Hamilton's had the virtual safety car not been deployed early in the race.
So the question is: could the second or third placed drivers have won the race?
Could Lewis Hamilton have won?
Not a man content with being second-best on the podium - particularly after having grabbed pole position on Saturday - Hamilton won't be happy losing out to his greatest rival in such a manner.
The Brit should have stormed to an easy win, and probably would have had it not been for an unanticipated safety car deployment on lap 27, during which Vettel pitted and came out ahead of the reigning world champion. It is still not clear who is to blame, but it may have been caused by Mercedes' gross miscalculation of the gap between the two drivers. The team seemed slow to react when Romain Grosjean's Haas pulled up at the side of the track and the virtual safety car was announced. Until then, Vettel had never looked like winning.
When racing resumed, a battled ensued between Vettel, who managed his fresh tyres well, and the Briton, who struggled for grip in the dirty air late on.
Could Kimi Raikkonen have won?
Not really. Even as he and Hamilton filed safely into the first corner, Raikkonen never looked fast enough to breech the leader's defence. That said, the Finn remained comfortably ahead of his teammate until about lap 15. He also tried to exert early pressure on Mercedes by setting fast sector times, but he was never really in the battle for first. And by the time the safety car was launched, Hamilton had extended his lead by well over two seconds.
Raikkonen was first into the pits and that allowed Vettel to take the advantage by making his stop during the delay. From that point on, Kimi's task was to hold onto third position. He offered race fans excitement by defending an attack from home favourite Daniel Ricciardo between laps 35 and 58. But, once again, Ferrari's tyre management came into play and The Iceman's task became easier as the Aussie struggled for grip in the closing stages.
Early signs suggest that race strategy could be even more crucial this year. Could that play into Ferrari's hands? Let us know in the comments below.